Leon Trotsky



October Eighteenth

* * *

October 18 was a day of great bewilderment. Vast crowds moved in disarray through the streets of Petersburg. A constitution had been proclaimed. What next? What was allowed and what was not?

During those troubled days I slept at the house of one of my friends, who was in government service. [1] On the morning of the eighteenth he greeted me with the Pravitelstvenny Vestnik (Government Herald) in his hand, a smile of happy excitement at odds with the customary skepticism on his intelligent face.

“They’ve issued a constitutional manifesto!”

“It isn’t possible!”

“Read this.”

We started reading aloud. First the paternal heart’s sorrow in the face of the unrest, then an assurance that “the people’s grief is our grief,” finally the categorical promise of all liberties, of the legislative rights of the Duma and of a broadening of the electoral laws.

We exchanged a silent look. It was hard to express the contradictory thoughts and feelings evoked by the manifesto. Freedom of assembly, personal immunity, control over the administration ... These, of course, were only words. But they were not the words of a liberal resolution, they were the words in a Tsar’s manifesto. Nicholas Romanov, Most August patron of the pogromists, Trepov’s Telemachus, was the author of these words. And this miracle had been wrought by the general strike. When, eleven years earlier, the liberals had submitted a humble petition asking for closer bonds between the autocratic monarch and the people, the crowned Junker had tweaked their ears for such “senseless dreams.” Those had been his very words! Now he was standing at attention before the striking proletariat.

“Well, what d’you make of that?” I asked my friend.

“They’re scared, the fools!” was the reply.

That was a classic phrase of its kind. We went on to read Witte’s Most Loyal Report bearing the Tsar’s resolution: “adopted in principle.”

“You’re right,” I said, “the fools are really scared.”

Five minutes later I was in the street. The first person I met was a student, out of breath and carrying his cap in his hand. He was a party comrade [2] who recognized me.

“Last night the troops fired on the Technological Institute. People are saying a bomb was thrown at them from inside ... obviously a provocation ... Just now a patrol dispersed a small meeting in Zabalkansky Prospect, using sabers ... Professor Tarle, who was the speaker, was badly wounded with a saber. They say he’s dead ...”

“Well, well. Not bad for a start.”

“Crowds of people are wandering everywhere, waiting for speakers. I’m on my way to a meeting of party agitators. What do you think? What should we talk about? Is amnesty the most important subject?”

“Everybody will be talking about amnesty without us. Demand the removal of troops from Petersburg. Not a single soldier within a radius of 25 versts.”

The student ran on, waving his cap in the air. A mounted patrol passed by in the street. Trepov was still in the saddle. The shooting at the Institute was his comment on the manifesto. The good fellow had wasted no time in destroying any constitutional illusions the people might have entertained.

I walked past the Technological Institute. It was still locked and guarded by soldiers. Trepov’s old promise that no bullets would be spared hung on the wall. Someone had pasted the Tsar’s manifesto next to it. Small groups of people huddled on the pavements.

“Let’s go to the University,” someone said, “there’ll be speeches.”

I went with them. We walked rapidly and in silence. The crowd grew every minute. There was no sense of joy, but rather of uncertainty and disquiet. No more patrols were to be seen. Isolated policemen kept timidly out of the way of the crowd. The streets were decorated with tricolor flags.

“Herod’s got his tail between his legs,” a worker in the crowd said loudly.

Sympathetic laughter greeted the remark. The mood was noticeably rising. A boy snatched a tricolor flag with its staff from above a house-gate, ripped off the blue and white strips, and raised the red remainder of the “national” flag high above the crowd. Dozens of people followed his example. A few minutes later a multitude of red flags were waving above the mass of people. White and blue scraps of material lay everywhere and the crowd trampled them with their feet. We crossed the bridge to Vasilyevsky Island. A huge bottleneck of people formed on the quay, through which a countless mass poured. Everyone was trying to push their way through to the balcony from which the orators were to speak. The balcony, windows, and spire of the University were decorated with red banners. I got inside with difficulty. My turn to speak came third or fourth. The picture which opened before my eyes from the balcony was extraordinary. The street was packed with people. The students’ blue caps and the red banners were bright spots among the hundred-thousand-strong crowd. The silence was complete; every one wanted to hear the speakers.

Citizens! Now that we have got the ruling clique with its back to the wall, they promise us freedom. They promise us electoral rights and legislative power. Who promises these things? Nicholas the Second. Does he promise them of his own good will? Or with a pure heart? Nobody could say that for him. He began his reign by congratulating his splendid Fanagoriytsy [3] on the murder of the workers of Yaroslav, and stepping over corpse after corpse, he arrived at Bloody Sunday, January 9. It is this tireless hangman on the throne whom we have forced to promise us freedom. What a great triumph! But do not be too quick to celebrate victory; victory is not yet complete. Is a promise of payment the same thing as real gold? Is the promise of liberty the same as liberty itself? If anyone among you believe in the Tsar’s promises, let him say so aloud—we’d all be glad to meet such a rare bird. Look around, citizens; has anything changed since yesterday? Have the gates of our prisons been opened? The Peter and Paul Fortress still dominates the city, doesn’t it? Don’t you still hear groans and the gnashing of teeth from behind its accursed walls? Have our brothers returned to their homes from the Siberian deserts? </>

“Amnesty! Amnesty! Amnesty!” comes the shout from below.

If the government had sincerely decided to make up its quarrel with the people, the first thing it would do would be to proclaim an amnesty. But, citizens, is an amnesty all? Today they will let out hundreds of political fighters, tomorrow they will seize thousands of others. Isn’t the order to spare no bullets hanging by the side of the manifesto about our freedoms? Didn’t they use their sabers this morning on people peacefully listening to a speaker? Isn’t Trepov, the hangman, master of Petersburg?

“Down with Trepov!" came the answering shout.

Yes, down with Trepov! but is he the only one? Are there no villains in the bureaucracy’s reserves to take his place? Trepov rules over us with the help of the army. The guardsmen covered in thc blood of January 9 are his support and his strength. It is they whom he orders not to spare bullets against your breasts and heads. We cannot, we do not want to, we must not live at gunpoint. Citizens! Let our demand be the withdrawal of troops from Petersburg! Let not a single soldier remain within a radius of 25 versts from the capital! The free citizens themselves will maintain order. No one shall suffer from violence and arbitrary rule. The people will take everyone under their protection.

“Out with the troops! All troops to leave Petersburg!”

Citizens! Our strength is in ourselves. With sword in hand we must stand guard over our freedom. As for the Tsar’s manifesto, look, it’s only a scrap of paper. Here it is before you—here it is crumpled in my fist. Today they have issued it, tomorrow they will take it away and tear it into pieces, just as I am now tearing up this paper freedom before your eyes!

There were two or three more speakers, and all of them concluded with a call to assemble in the Nevsky at 4:00 p.m. and from there to march to the prisons with a demand for amnesty.



1. A. A. Litkens, senior medical officer at the Konstantinovsk Artillery School.

2. A.A. Litkens, the Doctor’s younger son, a young Bolshevik, who died shortly thereafter following severe shock.

3. A cossack regiment. (Author)

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Last updated on: 13.11.2006